Teachers and parents strive everyday to prompt conversations among children about books. Sometimes starting these conversations can be like pulling teeth. Aidan Chambers realized this and sought to create a framework for adults to engage children in reading thoughtfully and responding articulately to the books they’ve read. In his book, Tell Me: Children, Reading, and Talk, Chambers outlines steps for adults to take in sparking conversations that make children excited, not just about reading, but about talking about reading.
Chambers places equal value on reading books and talking about books. He states:
“Talking well about books is a high-value activity in itself. But talking well about books is also the best rehearsal there is for talking well about other things. So in helping children to talk about their reading, we help them to be articulate about the rest of their lives” (2).
I love that Chambers sees the act of reading in this constructive manner. Reading not only has intrinsic value in itself, but the activity can be used as a tool to enhance individualism and overall personal development. But, in order for books to have this transformative impact, the adults in a child’s life must place value on reading and engaging children in a dialogue about literature. Chambers is clear that children cannot become avid readers if they are not within an environment that supports and encourages this activity. Adults need to be available to help a child make sense of the marks on each page of a chosen book. There is a direct correlation between the richness of a child’s reading environment and the richness of the talk surrounding the books they have read.
But how do adults create such a positive environment? It starts with two words: TELL ME. Adults can prompt meaningful conversations simply by uttering these unassuming words. Chambers advocates that adults ask children to tell them about the following aspects of a book:
- Tell me what you liked
- Tell me what you didn’t like
- Tell me what puzzled you
- Tell me about patterns you noticed
These simple requests will do so much more than asking a child the most common question: Why? The Why? question can often be too big for a child to process. Chambers states that Why? can overwhelm a child because he assumes that the adult already knows the answer and is expecting something specific. Contrastingly, Tell me… frees a child from assumed expectations and allows him to generously articulate true responses.
Try using this approach while reading to your children, and see if more thoughtful and excited responses emerge in your book-talk. More posts on the specifics of the “Tell Me” approach will be coming soon!